The Latest Dirt - Sept 2022
Interview with Greg Letts
By David George
Greg Letts and I had a chance to sit down the other day beneath the oak tree lording over the entrance to Our Garden in Walnut Creek. We talked about his experiences so far in the UC Master Gardener program and his role on the Executive Leadership Team. Greg is a graduate of the class of 2019 and has been instrumental in several important efforts already.
What was your career prior to being certified as a UC Master Gardener, Greg, and why did you apply for the program?
“I had a 25-year career in the outdoor products industry, selling outdoor gear and clothing to distributors and retailers. Before that I was in the office products industry. I chose to retire in 2019 and had already applied to be a UC Master Gardener program volunteer. I have always been active in the outdoors. These days I ski, fly fish, and play a little golf, in addition to my garden work at home, my volunteer work at Our Garden each week, and my other CoCoMG roles. I saw joining the program as a personal learning opportunity and opportunity to contribute. I enjoy teaching classes, working with my hands in Our Garden, and staffing the Ask A Master Gardener tables at farmers markets. I am continuously learning from the more experienced members and specialists in the program.”
Who inspired you to take on a leadership role as a member of the ELT so quickly after your certification?
“Several members whom I ‘used to respect’ (he laughs) approached me with the suggestion. Monika Witte was the first, I think, but then Joey Spinelli, John Fike, and Mike Corby also encouraged me to step up to the ELT. I wouldn’t say they pestered me exactly, but they did ask a couple of times before I agreed to the new role.”
How has your ELT tenure gone so far?
“My first year we spent a lot of time working on the Strategic Plan, driven by Holly Sauer and Lori Palmquist. It was a lot of work, but an interesting and fun collaboration. We presented our finished product to the Executive Committee in May, then to the full membership during the June business meeting. Work is ongoing for the plan implementation this year, with new ELT members, Kirsten Mollo and Bill Miller, leading it, with Holly and Lori having stepped down.”
I understand you’re active with photography also?
“No, not really. I asked the Communications team two years ago if they were interested in me documenting in photos the weekly growth and progress at Our Garden. They didn’t really have the band width for that, so they gave me the log-on for the CoCoMGUC Instagram page and I have been posting updates ever since. I also post pictures when available for the Rivertown Garden. We need to start posting the progress at the new West County Water Conservation Garden. It’s fascinating to compare photos of how the garden progresses throughout the growing season. Look how lush it is now, compared to early Spring. The photos end up being useful for newsletters, online presentations, Great Tomato Plant Sale ads, and other website needs.”
How do you see yourself contributing to the program going forward?
“I really enjoy my Our Garden work on Mondays and Wednesdays, and so I hope to continue to contribute to its success. Tuesdays are dedicated either to the EC or ELT. I also hope to continue teaching for the Growing Gardeners program and do a couple of Speakers Bureau webinars each year.”
How can the program encourage members to step into leadership roles like you?
“There’s a running joke about that: ‘Try something new. What’s the worst that can happen?’ (Greg laughs) I think the number of hours that members see others contributing to the program on a yearly basis scare them away from leadership roles. We on the ELT talk about ways to break down some of these responsibilities into smaller, more bite-sized chunks. The concept of co-leads for Growing Gardeners and other programs has worked well so far. Not only are the co-lead responsibilities lessened, but the program gains continuity, while still allowing rotation in and out of lead roles. The same applies with the reorganized Executive Leadership Team roles replacing the former president’s prodigious duties. I also believe it’s important for existing leaders to continue to encourage and ask other
volunteers to step into new roles.
What are the most pressing program leadership roles to fill right now?
“For the three projects I liaison for, the Rivertown Garden has the most urgent need for new volunteers this fall. There is a lot they want to accomplish out there, as they re-vamp the garden into a true demonstration garden. It’s a really interesting (literally) ground-up opportunity to get involved with. We also need a co-lead for the General Equipment and Maintenance (GEM) group, and a co-lead for the Speakers Bureau. And there are more opportunities to volunteer popping up all the time. Try something new!”
Thanks, Greg for your volunteerism, coordination activities, and clear thinking during your first four years in the program, and for your leadership insights today.